“Have you heard about this Ban Bossy campaign?” my coworker asked me last week.
“Yeah, I think I’ve seen something about it on Twitter,” I replied.
“Yeah, I kind of like it,” she said.
I decided to investigate more on the topic because streams of Twitter dribble are hardly ever enough to fully learn about something, contrary to what some of my generation believes.
When I Googled “ban bossy,” the first search result took me to www.banbossy.com and my initial thought was “Oh, Sheryl Sandberg is behind this.” The website’s template was enough to give it away, not to mention the pledge calling people to action to #banbossy. And, if that were not enough, the “Lean In” text in the top right hand corner was a pretty obvious clue.
I don’t think you can critique something without first assessing it. Hell, sometimes you first blindly admire it. That’s how it was for me and “Lean In.” I have no problem admitting that when Sandberg’s “Lean In” dropped last year, I preordered it, devoured it on a flight and then mentioned it in many conversations after. I even considered starting a “Lean In” circle before my common sense kicked in and I realized that should never, ever be a “thing.” Let’s be serious.
I remember talking to another coworker of mine about the book and she said she had read some chapters but as a working mother, found most of it unrelatable. It’s a common criticism of the book. For many women, it feels discouraging at best and belittling at worst when Sandberg sits from her perch at the Golden Gates of Facebook and instructs women to rise to the top professionally, be amazing mothers and also wonderful spouses. I’m in corporate America every day. I know that the demands of the environment often times pull women in opposite directions and they don’t always feel like they can be successful in both arenas, professional and personal. I doubt I’m just speaking for myself in that case. It is simply the nature of the beast.
But, back to Ban Bossy. I’m not going to just aimlessly throw eggs at the campaign. I see what Sandberg is doing and, on some level, I respect it. I appreciate the statistics about the confidence of girls relative to that of boys dipping as early as elementary school. I I love Beyoncé’s “I’m not bossy; I’m the boss” line in the video. I find the photos of the excited little girls on the website to be extremely endearing. I just wonder how much any of it will advance our male-dominated culture. I worry how much any of it will really help. I am not saying this is not a valiant start. I just know all too well how much no amount of it will shield excited little girls who grow into powerful grown women from the criticism and bigotry. How it’s going to be so much harder to eradicate the stigma that comes along with being assertive while also just happening to have a pair of breasts.
By, the time you’re even the ripe age of 24, you learn that “bossy” is no longer the choice word if you’re an assertive and straightforward woman; instead, the choice word is “bitch.” Awhile ago, I started a poem by saying, “One time a man called me an unhappy bitch. This is for him.” Pretty sure I said the word “bitch” at least 30 times in that poem. Pretty sure my mom, who sat in the audience at that show, wasn’t too thrilled. Love you, mom.
I say that to say that feminism and what comes along with being a strong, no-nonsense woman is not something that can be neatly packaged. You can’t package the times that people roll their eyes at you or do not even know how to respond. You can’t package the moments when people say you are being “extra” or you are “doing the most” because you simply have an opinion. You can’t package the points where your friends joke “Yeah, you are an asshole” because you have high standards for your work, your friendships, your men and pretty much everything else in your life except for your wine. You can’t package the junctures where mere strangers tell you that you are too ambitious just because you are in relentless pursuit of your dreams. You simply can’t package that.
Some of this strong woman stuff is messy. And, half the time, you don’t become a strong woman just because people patted your cute little head along the way. You become a strong woman because you toured the trenches and teetered on tightropes. You become a strong woman because people and life tested you more than enough. You become a strong woman because a stranger called you “bitch” or a man on a street scoffed and said “What, you think you’re too good for me?” when you opted to walk past them on a stoop. “Strong” followed by “woman” is not an adjective and a noun that are easily paired together. Nor should they be. There are a lot of adjectives they use to describe us; but when they use strong, it means that we are about our shit. And, this world still has not learned how to fully embrace women who are about their shit. So, this is not cute. This is not easy. This is not fun. This is about trial by fire. This is not a neat package at all. At least not my brand of feminism.